What’s terrorism, and how should the U.S. respond 9 years after 9/11?

By Adam Brown

Terrorism as a force, is an idea has existed in many forms for decades–or centuries–depending on how one looks at it. It has no nationality, ethnicity or race. There has existed church-sanctioned terrorism throughout the Middle Ages, Buddhist car bombers against English colonial officials in the early 20th century, and Christians bombing abortion clinics in recent past.

But today, Americans (and not without due reason) have hastily grouped the religion of Islam and terrorism together, as two shades of the same color. This is and ought to be recognized as a gross misunderstanding. Recent attacks against Great Britain, Spain and the United States were not perpetrated by Islam as a whole, but by extremist elements within it.

However, until the enemies of democracy and individual freedom can be properly understood in context, challenges against them will invariably fall short.

Terrorism, unlike pandemic diseases or professional armies, is intangible. It’s an idea, a thought which gives power and meaning to those cruel enough to extol it, and those weak enough to embrace it. And ideas cannot be vanquished simply by strategic bombings and occupation forces–which is unfortunate, as these are strengths America’s global power is best suited for. Ideas can only be challenged, and ultimately eliminated, by other ideas–greater ones.

The struggle this past century against fascism, and later Soviet communism, was not won by battles alone, but by a greater ideal–a superior vision of the world and its future–one of representative democracy and individual freedom. Men and women gave the ultimate sacrifice defending what they knew was right. They served with distinction defending what gave mankind the greatest dignity and honor.

The attacks launched nearly a decade ago on Sept. 11, 2001 defined the modern world, and showed that challenges America must face in the 21st century are in many ways the same as ones past.

Responding to such intolerance and hatred is never easy. The United States must be prepared, as it has done in Afghanistan and Iraq, to challenge these ideas with force.

But this is not enough. The Western world must underline the greatness of its values and civilization through spreading not only the dark, but the light. We must show that as a people we realize Islam is not the enemy, and disavow those that do. We must stress an interfaith dialogue, and support international causes–particularly in the Muslim world–of democracy, equal rights for women, and a fair judiciary.

If America depends solely on its military to impart freedom and democracy, then extremist elements in the Middle East and around the world will distort its final message.

And if we allow this to continue, then terrorism as a force will continue to survive, and the cycle of violence repeats. Now is the time to act.